A S Dulat is neither a Kashmiri nor a politician, yet he is among the major players in the chessboard that is Jammu and Kashmir. Not for nothing is he known as a walking encyclopaedia on the Kashmir issue.
As a senior officer of the Intelligence Bureau, he handled Kashmir for many years. Later, as chief of the Research and Analysis Wing, he got to know the macro dimensions of the state.
During the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime he served as an advisor on Kashmir in the Prime Minister's Office. His Kashmir input helped National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra formulate Vajpayee's Kashmir policy. Although his assessment has been debatable at times, his networking, knowledge and experience have made him a key figure.
Dulat was, once again, called back unofficially to hook the All Parties Hurriyat Conference back into the government's next moves in Kashmir. Although Srinagar has seen many representatives of New Delhi who rarely visit Kashmir or know their sensitivities, none has been as skilled as Dulat in understanding the Kashmir tangle.
In an interview with Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt, he gives an idea of the ground realities in the Kashmir Valley.
How important is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Kashmir?
It's important because he is visiting Kashmir for the first time. His meeting with General Pervez Musharraf in New York was received well in the Valley.
Ahead of PM's visit, militants kill six people in J&K
Also, the announcement of reduction of troops in Kashmir is a positive step. In view of it, Kashmiris will wait for him. People will wait to hear his speech. Whatever negative signals Kashmiris send, they always give attention to the speeches by leaders from New Delhi. They want to normalise the security situation. They want relief. For political leaders visiting Kashmir, how you say it is as important as what you say.
Kashmiris are feeling hopeless and their hopelessness has turned into cynicism. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can make a difference in the situation.
What about Home Minister Shivraj Patil's remarks that Pakistan is not allowing the Hurriyat to talk to the Centre?
The communication gap increases when a change of government takes place. Once the rapport is established again things will move in a positive direction.
There is need to do groundwork. Once that's done, there should not be any hurdles in talking to the Hurriyat.
What's your assessment of the Hurriyat?
I can assure [you], the Hurriyat is not at all averse to the idea of talks. They are concerned about the modalities of talks. Since there is no deputy prime minister in this government, they will be a little wary.
Once confidence is established, talks shall resume. At least at this point the ruling People's Democratic Party and National Conference are supporting the Centre's talks with the Hurriyat.
What was the outcome of the two rounds of talks the Hurriyat's separatist leaders had with then deputy prime minister L K Advani?
Those meetings can be termed as meetings for confidence building. The government in New Delhi did not know what the Hurriyat would ask for, and on the other side the Hurriyat had apprehensions too. They wanted to proceed with honour and caution. But both sides were relieved once the meeting took place. They were successful meetings.
Advani, who many of them considered a hawk, was found reasonable in his talks by the Hurriyat leaders. And Advani too found that progress is possible.
In the second meeting Advani requested Professor Abdul Gani Bhat to get a kind of roadmap for talks between the Hurriyat and the Centre for the next meeting. But then, his government lost the election.
What's your latest assessment of the ground situation in Kashmir?
I met many leaders including from the Hurriyat on October 29. I had gone to play golf in Kashmir. I must say that many Kashmiris miss A B Vajpayee. Kashmiris saw a ray of hope in him. Now, they are waiting for the arrival of Prime Minister Singh. His words and way of delivery of speech will be under scrutiny. Kashmiris want the end of militancy. They feel even if India wants to crush militancy it can't, because of Pakistan which holds the key to stopping the violence.
Because of this, Vajpayee's April 18, 2003 speech in Srinagar was important for them.
Dr Singh, too, will surely make an impact. As I told you before, though Kashmiris will tell you they are not concerned with the prime ministers' visits, they will go on a strike but will listen to him. Prime Minister Singh's initiative for reduction of troops has already sent the right signals.
What is the next big step expected in Kashmir?
Talks with the Hurriyat. Look back to 1996. After the turmoil of the bloody insurgency, for the first time a process had started. The National Conference government came to power. Whether you like it or not the democratic process, indeed, got revived. In 2002, the second phase came in the form of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's government. Some may think the People's Democratic Party is also an interim government but it has certainly consolidated the democratic process.
These two governments have been a big forward movement in Kashmir. Today, Kashmiris feel their own people are in power.
Why are you, lately, giving importance to the Hurriyat? Are they not playing games Pakistan wants to play?
The process which started in 1996 has to reach its logical conclusion. We must take this process ahead. It's compulsory. In the minds of Kashmiris the issue of Kashmir is unsettled. We have to address their concern. It's necessary to talk to the Hurriyat. Let us give them one chance. The Hurriyat has relevance. Americans and Pakistanis have been talking to Hurriyat leaders. After all, the Hurriyat influences militancy in Kashmir.
I consider the Mirwaiz [Hurriyat Chairman Omar Farooq] a promising leader. Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti, Sajjad Lone and the Mirwaiz are the tomorrow of Kashmir. It has to be seen who emerges as the stronger leader.
Do you agree with the view that the Mufti government is unable to come up to people's expectations?
Oh, what do you think of Kashmir? Kashmir is capable of robbing the shine off veterans. All governments face ups and downs. Don't forget that he is in power only with 16 MLAs. His opponent, the National Conference, has 28 MLAs. Muftisaab needs space to balance.
How do you see Pakistan's recent moves vis-à-vis Kashmir?
They are getting diminishing returns after investing in the hawkish elements in Kashmir. They know it's becoming counter-productive. General Musharraf is repeatedly assuring the world that he will eradicate extremism from Pakistan. Now, how can he continue funding extreme elements in Kashmir?
Also, remember Shabir Shah and Yasin Malik have not joined the [Syed Ali Shah] Geelani faction. Ordinary Kashmiris have understood the futility of guns. The hawks in Kashmir now know they will have to participate in elections. Whether they have the people's support or not is not tested so we should also encourage them.
The Mirwaiz has said he wanted to go to Pakistan before the third round of talks. They want the talks to be all-inclusive.
That is rubbish! He may not have said it as a condition to restart talks. No government can agree to it. The Hurriyat has said many times before that the talks are unconditional. Let it be unconditional.